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March 8, 2009

Is the economic argument against the death penalty a game-changer?

Inspired by a comment by Shawn to another post, I thought it might be valuable to again review all the recent discussion of the economic costs of the death penalty.  It has long been clear that the administration of capital punishment is a costly affair, though only now in tough budget times do we see politicans discussing this reality with emphasis and proposals for reform.  Whatever one might think of the merits of these arguments (which folks are welcome to discuss in the comments), these links to posts at my main blog highlight that the idea is getting a lot of media attention in recent weeks:

Some recent posts noting media discussion of death penalty costs and reform proposals:

March 8, 2009 in Pro/Con arguments surrounding the death penalty | Permalink


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I am curious if anyone has ever heard a lawyer call this $10 mil per case appeal process pretextual? I never have. The Supreme Court had a chance to end the pretext in 2008, but chose not to, as predicted by the Rent Seeking Theory.

I have discussed the dose-response curve as it applies to all legal remedies, and that this curve should be worked out prior to enactment. The Supreme Court has stated that scientific validation is not required for legal remedies, but it is no longer 1907. And all legal remedies should be proven safe and effective at this time.


By this appeal process, lawyers have a lot of make work jobs, and deter the death penalty for their clients. The system is rigged against the V word airtight.

The pretext, the massive heist of tax dollars, the immunization of murder provide full intellectual and moral justification for self-help against the criminal cult enterprise.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Mar 8, 2009 6:40:01 PM

Much the same way that different players make decisions based on their historical context and surroundings (as the class has dicussed in instances such as the McGautha case), arguments themselves are fueled or hindered by the circumstances and context which they are made. In this case, with the economy being at the state where it currently is, an economic argument against the death penalty is simply going to be a more powerful argument than when the economy is booming. Does this make the argument a gamechanger? I'm not sure. What it does say is that people are going to hold values more strongly at different times. Someone may be for the death penalty, but also may be for responsible government spending. Since the death penalty causes these values to potentially collide, when the economy is the most pressing issue, it seems realistic that the death penalty would take a back seat.

What this trend sort of reminds me of is the balance between national secuirty and civil liberties. Following a tramatic event the concern for national security is likely to be at the forefront of everyone's attention and arguments for the protection of civil liberties are likely to carry less wieght. As time passes wihtout further events, arguments for civil liberties are likely to gain strength. In the same way, as the economy (fingers crossed) begins to recover, while the economic argument against the death penalty will still be out there, I would expect it to lose power. That being said, based on current state action/consideration it is no doubt a powerful argument int he present context.

Posted by: Zach | Mar 11, 2009 11:26:52 AM

I think Zach's comparison of the death penalty argument and national security/civil liberties dichotomy is interesting and on point. As people lose their jobs, pensions, homes, and health care its hard to get them behind an expensive death penalty. Further, its hard to even get them to pay attention to the death penalty argument at all. A good example of this is New Mexico's recent abolition of the death penalty. It appears to have gone almost unnoticed outside of the NM.

Posted by: Melissa | May 7, 2009 1:14:49 PM

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